Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
by Steven Pinker
For Steven Pinker, the reason why human life changed for the better in the past two centuries is simple: “The Enlightenment has worked—perhaps the greatest story seldom told.” He construes the Enlightenment broadly, to include not just its core in the last third of the eighteenth century but a quarter of a millennium of European history, from the intellectual pioneers of the early 1600s to liberals in the first half of the nineteenth century. What these thinkers had in common, according to Pinker, was a belief that we can and should “apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing.” As a slogan for the long Enlightenment, this is apt enough, though we get few further particulars. Pinker is thumping a bible that he rarely opens. And when he does open it, he mainly sees a mirror.
In his own day, and into the nineteenth century, Hume’s philosophical writings were generally seen as perverse and destructive. Their goal was “to produce in the reader a complete distrust in his own faculties,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1815–1817. The best that could be said for Hume as a philosopher was that he provoked wiser thinkers to refute him in interesting ways.